Lopez, Antonia & Federico
Antonia Lopez (1897-1963) & Federico Lopez (1888-197_)
Written by Catherine Babikian
Antonia Lopez was born in Guanajuato, Mexico in 1897. Her father belonged to a wealthy Mexican family, but they disowned him when he married one of the household maids. With no money or family, Antonia’s parents had to make their own way.
Antonia’s husband, Federico Lopez, was also born in Guanajuato. Federico left for America at age eighteen, hoping that better opportunities could be found al norte. In 1905, he walked to the U.S./Mexico border and quickly found work on the railroad in Arizona. On a return trip to Mexico, he met and married Antonia.
By this time the Mexican revolution was raging, and Federico returned to the U.S. to search for a place for the couple to live. Antonia stayed with his parents until he returned. In that time, she gave birth to a son, who died shortly after. In an oral history interview for the Mujeres Latinas project, one of her sons, Salvador, recounted the struggles that Antonia faced that year, including the death of her infant son and the difficult relationship with Federico’s parents.
Antonia and Federico settled in Fairport, Iowa, a community on the banks of the Mississippi River, and started a family. Federico worked as a traquero, performing maintenance work on the railroad and laying lines of track. After he was laid off from his railroad job during the Depression, the Lopez family moved to Cook’s Point in 1934. There, Federico, Antonia, and their eight surviving children lived in a houseboat.
It was a little – a houseboat that had been docked to the shore and cribbed up with railroad ties. And that was it. …And then we had an outhouse that was built alongside the boathouse…maybe a hundred and fifty feet away and it was built on stilts so the water wouldn’t wash it away… I can remember the inside of [the houseboat] was made out of tin, tin inside – instead of plaster it was tin. And on the cold days I can remember looking up and seeing the tin and it was all full of frost up there. It was just like the inside of an icebox. And that’s when it would get down to below zero. (Salvador Lopez)
Antonia managed the household in the difficult conditions of Cook’s Point. On cold winter mornings, she rose early to chop wood for the stove. In the summer, she built bonfires to keep away the ever-present mosquitoes. She found time to take language classes to improve her English, and made sure the children attended church each day.
She was always a real religious person…even after we moved here [to their current home in Davenport] she would go over to the Sacred Heart cathedral, which was only about three blocks up the hill. Every week she’d give three dollars in her envelope. And we’d always tell her, “Ma, you ain’t got enough to give three dollars.” “Oh,” she says, “I’ve gotta give three dollars.” And she’d do that every day, you know, every year. That’s what she wanted. (Salvador Lopez)
Although Antonia and Federico made frequent visits to Mexico, they stayed in Iowa for the rest of their lives; Federico became a U.S. citizen in 1947. Their son, Salvador, became a founding member of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) Council 10 in Davenport.
(Oral history interview with Antonia and Federico Lopez's son, Salvador Lopez, conducted by Janet Weaver for the Mujeres Latinas Project, May 21, 2007)